Review: USA Network's 'Burn Notice'

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July 6th, 2008

Burn Notice Season Two Premiere Thursday July 10 at 10pm on USA

What would you get if you crossed John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee with MacGyver and James Bond?  You'd get something very close to Michael Westen (played by Jeffrey Donovan) of USA Network's Burn Notice.

Long-time readers know that among my favorites television shows are shows with compelling and at times downright gut wrenching human drama like HBO's The Wire and the mysterious rich tapestry that is ABC's LOSTBurn Notice is absolutely nothing like those shows.   I love it anyway.  There's not a whole lot of depth to it  - on that score it's about 180 degrees away from The Wire.  Despite this, Burn Notice is just a fun romp.   Fast paced, action packed, some beautiful people and the occasional pyrotechnic display.  Mindless entertainment?  Sure.  But it's so much fun.

Burn Notice follows the exploits of blacklisted spy Michael Westen.  Dumped in Miami, Westen does the occasional "odd job" to get by as he tries to determine who blacklisted him and why.    The show has only three major characters: Westen,  Westen's gorgeous ex-girlfriend and ex-IRA operative Fiona (played by the lovely Gabrielle Anwar) and Sam (Bruce Campbell) a down-on-his-luck boozing and womanizing washed up military intelligence contact, who in addition to being Westen's friend keeps tabs on Michael for the FBI.

The only other regular characters are Michael's mom (played by the Emmy Award winning Sharon Gless) Madeline and the occasional appearance of Michael's brother Nate (Seth Peterson).

SPOILER ALERT:  Me, I HATE spoilers.  Of any kind.  Knowing even the littlest detail in advance saps some of the enjoyment of my viewing sometimes, so if you're anything like me - look away now!

Still here?  That's ok, you didn't want to be anything like me anyway.  Adding still more beauty to the show in season two is Tricia Helfer who plays Number 6 on Battlestar Galactica.  Helfer will have a recurring role as Carla, the woman who just may be behind Michael's burn notice. 

I started watching Burn Notice because after my reviews of In Plain Sight (and to USA's credit, it has not yet aired the third episode that was on the preview CD and that's good because I thought it stunk) spurred some comments that it was like Burn Notice only with a female lead.  Gorman also caught the bug and recommended that I watch it.  So I burned through the 12 episodes of season one in about three days and lo and behold a few days after that the advance preview DVD of the season two premiere (plus one other episode).

Season two picks up right where season one left off and judging from the premiere there will be no sophomore slump for Burn Notice.  It's still a fast-paced romp.  I definitely have a TV crush on the Fiona character.  But sexy, crazy women who love to fight and shoot at people just do it for me. What can I say? Sam is fun too, as is the occasional interplay between Sam and Fiona.

If you're just looking to be entertained and have fun, I definitely recommend checking out Burn Notice. Burn Notice isn't the type of show that must be watched from the beginning to enjoy it, though I think it will be more enjoyable if you do.  If you're in the United States you can catch up on Burn Notice on Hulu.  Also, USA will be running a marathon this Thursday between 8:30a-5:30p that will air nine out of the twelve episodes from season one.

My hat is off to Matt Nix, the show's creator and primary writer for creating such a fun show on what must be a relatively low budget.  For comparative purposes I also recently watched the eleven episodes of season one of NBC's  LifeLife is a fun and quirky cop show. I enjoy many of Life's characters and they have more depth to them than the characters on Burn Notice.  But Life isn't as fast-paced or fun and the writing isn't as crisp.  Some of the episodes plod along seeming like they have about ten minutes more to them than they probably should have.  I like both shows but I enjoy Burn Notice more.  Life costs more to make, no doubt, but so far it's just not as good as Burn Notice

If I were NBC and trying to appeal to the masses via the broadcast network I'd have to think about promoting the hell out of Burn Notice and sticking it on NBC and switching the quirky Life over to USA Network.  I consider this unlikely to happen though as NBC's experiment with airing Monk and Psych on NBC didn't fare well.  But I believe Burn Notice has more mainstream appeal than those comedies.  How mainstream?  Gorman told me Burn Notice was one show his wife will actually watch with him. Sure, that's only one data point, but it's the only one I really need. 

editor's note: Gorman advises me that his wife also watches In Plain Sight with him, but as previously noted, it's kind of the same show Burn Notice is.  While Bill and I don't agree on everything, we both agree Burn Notice is the better of the two shows though we enjoy both.   

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